Saturday, January 24, 2009

10 Things I Learned From Dr. Temple Grandin

Dr. Temple Grandin is considered the most accomplished person with autism in the world – she’s a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and has published lots of books and papers about autism and animals. Last week we presented Dr. Grandin at the Y where I work. I’d heard her speak on a panel before, but this time she gave a lecture. Her book “Emergence: Labeled Autistic” was a groundbreaking inside account of growing up with autism, and she’s a leading authority on how to make slaughterhouses more efficient and humane. Some of the things she said were surprising. Some of the things were contrary to popular belief. Everything was insightful and compassionate.

1) Research tips.
At a private talk for high school science students beforehand, she told them how to avoid paying $35 for a journal article:
1) Find out what university the researcher is affiliated with.
2) Go to their website directory and look up their email address.
3) Email them and ask for a copy of the article. Usually the article willl arrive in your email box free of charge.

2) About Einstein…
If Albert Einstein were alive today, he might be diagnosed with Asbergers Syndrome, which is considered an autism spectrum disorder. She believes that many of today’s “computer geeks” are on the autism spectrum.
3) The Squeeze Machine
When she was growing up, she found comfort in a squeeze machine that she designed to surround and confine her, and applied this experience when designing equipment for handling cattle. For both animals and people, deep pressure and being “wrapped” is calming. (My own experience confirms this – my son, who is on the active side, will wrap himself in blankets burrito-style or even crawl under a cushion when he needs to calm himself to go to sleep!)

4) Cattle Call
Half the cattle in the country are handled on equipment that she designed, but “inventing new equipment is easier that training people to use it properly.”

5) More research tips:
When you need to go beyond Google, try these research tools:
1) Pubmed –
2) -
3) Google scholar -
4) search “Inside Books” on -

6) Tool Talk
A smart bird will make tools. Crows and bluejays will bend a wire to obtain food from the bottom of a tube.

7) Social Skills
She recommends the book “A Five Is Against the Law!” for teaching social skills and manners to people with autism. She also learned social skills by playing board games and reading Dear Abby.

8) Eating Meat
She is often asked why she is not a vegetarian. The answer is that her initial contact with cattle was in Arizona where they had a decent life and received excellent care. She thinks that if her initial encounter had taken place in a substandard facility, she might have taken a different path. Dr. Grandin is also hypoglycemic and feels she would not be as healthy on a diet lower in protein.

9) Outdoor Dogs
Wolves and wild dogs do not travel in mixed “packs” where an “alpha” male is in charge. Instead, they are more likely to stay with their family members until a mate is found.
10) Vet Visit Tips
Fear of falling off the table is the main cause of nervous pets at the vet’s. To make things easier, bring a non-stick mat for them to stand on. Don’t make jerky motions. If you have a bath mat that the pet is familiar with, even better. Hold the animal snugly (but not too tight) during the exam. Allow 20-30 minutes for a panicked animal to calm down.

Dr. Grandin’s new book is “Animals Make Us Human”.


tina said...

Very interesting. That bird was so smart. It was neat watching it.

Anonymous said...

This is all so interesting. My son and I have color sensitivity issues. He has a blue sheet that helps him to read better. He places it over the computer screen and his books. He is quite smart. He found out he was color sensitive from one of his collage professors. She administered a simple version of the test as she thought most people have some form of this disability.

That was really thoughtful of his teacher and my son is more empowered to do better.

Squirrel said...

Really interesting post, thank you for the intro to Dr. Grandin.

Squirrel said...

I love watching animals--the crow vid was great.

our friend Ben said...

Gods, Jen, I am SO jealous!!! Being a lifelong animal lover (and editor of pet books) and always fascinated by animal behavior, I found "Thinking in Pictures" impossible to put down. When my niece and nephew were subsequently diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, Dr. Grandin's books really helped me understand what they were experiencing (though to a lesser degree than she endured). Thank you for sharing some of her wonderful points, and for the photo of her squeeze machine; I'd always wondered what it looked like.

garden girl said...

The crow was really amazing! I can attest to how intelligent blue jays are after raising a baby blue jay when I was a teenager.

I've heard a bit about Dr. Grandin. After reading your post, I think she sounds like someone I'd like to learn more about.

Karen said...

She has accomplished great things. So little is still known about Autism Spectrum Disorders - I think she is right in saying that there are many adults in certain professions (like computer programming) that have undiagnosed Asperger's of some degree. Very cool that you heard her speak!

tut-tut said...

What a great synopsis; I had heard of her vaguely, but this is wonderful. So much information, too.

JGH said...

Tina, I love crows. I could watch them all day.

Anna, Temple talked about light sensitivity. She suggested incandescent light, colored glasses and laptop computers because the monitors are less static. I'm intrigued by your son's "blue sheet" - glad it has empowered him!

Squirrel - I was pretty excited wen I saw there was a video of the crow!

Ben, she talked a lot about "Thinking in Pictures" when she spoke to the teens. About how she calls up pictures of familiar things to visualize and help her solve problems. I think that maybe all of us do this, no? But maybe those on the autism spectrum to a greater extent?

Welcome, Garden Girl! How cool that you were able to raise a blue jay! Along with crows, they are supposed to be among the smartest birds.

Karen, after learning a little bit more about Asberger's, I recognize some of the behaviors in people I know. I wouldn't be surprised if it is underdiagnosed.

Tut, her new book has chapters on Dogs, Cats, Pigs, orses, Cows, and Poultry so if there's an animal you're particularly intersted in, you can just read that chapter.

Kate in NJ said...

Terrific post!

Kate in NJ said...

Terrific post!

David said...

Her book, Thinking in Pictures, is on my shelf. It was the first time I finally understood how a person on the autistic spectrum thought about life. Since our son has Aspberger's Syndrome, it helped me to understand his total meltdowns when communication overloads were happening in his life. I also came to realized that thinking aobut others was/is an entirely foreign idea and that most interactions have to be learned and practiced until they become habit. Thanks for sharing this post. David/ :-)

bookworm said...

I just found this post, browsing through your blog. I have a brother in law with autism and I recently watched the HBO Dr. Grandin movie on DVD. I enjoyed learning more about this fascinating person who gives us a window into the thinking of someone with autism.